Schatz served in the Hawaii House of Representatives from 1998 to 2006, where he represented the 25th Legislative District and was chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii from 2008 to 2010. He also worked as chief executive officer of Helping Hands Hawaii, an Oahu nonprofit social service agency, until he resigned to run for Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii in the 2010 Hawaii gubernatorial election as the running mate of Neil Abercrombie. He served as lieutenant governor until December 26, 2012, when Abercrombie appointed Schatz to serve out Daniel Inouye's U.S. Senate term until the 2014 special election. Upon his swearing-in, Schatz was the youngest U.S. Senator in the 112th Congress. Schatz won the 2014 special election to complete the remainder of Inouye's Senate term, and was reelected in 2016 for a full six-year term.
Brian Schatz was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, along with an identical twin brother, Steve. He is the son of Barbara Jane (née Binder) and Irwin Jacob Schatz, a cardiologist and native of Saint Boniface, Manitoba. The family is Jewish.
Schatz's father, Dr. Irwin Schatz, was notable as the first to publicly identify the injustice of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment in 1964, and remained an influential critic of the study through his life.
When Brian and Steve were 2 years old the family moved to Hawaii where Schatz graduated from Punahou School. Schatz enrolled at Pomona College in Claremont, California; he spent a term studying in Kenya as part of the International Training Program. After graduating with a B.A. in philosophy, he returned to Hawaii, where he taught at Punahou before taking other jobs in the nonprofit sector.
He became active in the community through his involvement in Youth for Environmental Services in the 1980s. He served as CEO of Helping Hands Hawaii and director of the Makiki Community Library and of the Center for a Sustainable Future. In March 2010, Schatz stepped down from Helping Hands to run for lieutenant governor.
In 1998, Schatz, a Democrat, challenged the incumbent State Representative of the 24th District of the Hawaii House of Representatives, Republican Sam Aiona, and won, 53%–47%. In the 2000 rematch, he was re-elected, 57%–43%.
In 2002, he ran in the newly redrawn 25th House district, and defeated Republican Bill Hols, 69%–31%. In 2004, he defeated Republican Tracy Okubo 64%–36%. The 25th district includes Makiki and Tantalus on Oahu.
Schatz ran for Hawaii's 2nd congressional district, vacated by Ed Case, who had decided to run for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Daniel Akaka. The Democratic primary featured 10 candidates, seven of whom served in the Hawaii Legislature. Mazie Hirono, the Lieutenant Governor, was the only one who had held statewide office and thus enjoyed the most name recognition. She also raised more money than any other candidate in the race, mostly because of the endorsement of EMILY's List, and gave her campaign a personal loan of $100,000. Still, she won with just 22% of the vote, just 845 votes ahead of State Senator Colleen Hanabusa. State Representative Schatz ranked sixth with 7% of the vote, behind Hirono and four state senators.
Schatz, one of the earliest supporters of Barack Obama for president, founded a group with other Hawaii Democrats in December 2006 to urge Obama to run. Schatz said, "For the last six years we've been governed by fear, fear of terrorists, fear of other countries, even fear of the other party...everyone is governing by fear and Barack Obama changes all of that. He wants to govern the United States by hope." In 2008, Schatz worked as spokesman for Obama's campaign in Hawaii.
In April 2008, he began running for the position of chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii, and won the job at the state convention the following month. During his tenure, the Democrats increased the number of active party members and delivered Obama's best performance of any state in the country. Hawaii native Obama won the state with 73% of the vote when just 55% of the state voted for Democratic nominee John Kerry in United States presidential election in Hawaii, 2004. Schatz stepped down as party chairman on January 9, 2010.
On January 10, 2010, Schatz announced his candidacy for the office of lieutenant governor. Schatz's campaign priorities included the creation of clean-energy jobs, public education, and technological improvements in the public sector. He also declared his support for Hawaii House Bill 444, which would have allowed same-sex civil unions in Hawaii had it not been vetoed by term-limited Republican Governor Linda Lingle. A number of Hawaii labor unions endorsed Schatz for lieutenant governor in the Democratic primary election, held statewide on September 18, 2010.
On December 6, 2010, Schatz was inaugurated as Hawaii's 11th lieutenant governor alongside Neil Abercrombie, who had defeated incumbent Lieutenant Governor Duke Aiona for the governor's seat. Hawaii Supreme Court Associate Justice James Duffy administered the oath of office at the Coronation Pavilion on the grounds of ʻIolani Palace.
Shortly before Sen. Daniel Inouye died on December 17, 2012, Sen. Inouye dictated a letter to Governor Neil Abercrombie, asking that U.S. Representative Colleen Hanabusa be appointed to finish out his term.
Hawaii law on interim appointments to the U.S. Senate requires the governor to choose from three candidates selected by the party of the previous officeholder. On December 26, 2012, the Hawaii Democratic Party nominated Schatz, Hanabusa, and Esther Kia'aina, the deputy director of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. The same day, Abercrombie named Schatz to the job, despite Inouye's request. Later that night, Schatz accompanied President Barack Obama back to Washington, D.C. on Air Force One. On December 27 Schatz was sworn in as a senator by Vice President Joe Biden.
Schatz's appointment to Inouye's seat on December 27, 2012, made him the senior senator from Hawaii (Mazie Hirono, who was elected that November to replace retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka, took office just one week later on January 3, 2013). He is only the sixth person to represent Hawaii in the U.S. Senate, and the first non-Asian American to serve since Oren E. Long.
Schatz announced his intention to run for election in the special election to be held in 2014 for a two years term. In April 2013, Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa announced she would oppose Schatz in the primary. The core of the Schatz campaign was climate change and renewable energy, and fieldwork from the Super-PAC Climate Hawks Vote has been credited with possibly putting Schatz over the top in a close Democratic primary. Schatz defeated Hanabusa by 1,782 votes (0.75 percent) in a primary delayed in two precincts by Hurricane Iselle.
As expected in heavily Democratic Hawaii, Schatz went on to win the general election with about 70% of the vote.
Schatz ran for and easily won his first full six-year senate term in 2016.Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Defense
Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee on Legislative Branch (Ranking Member)
Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies
Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies
Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security
Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet (Ranking Member)
Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard
Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness
Select Committee on Ethics
Committee on Indian Affairs
Schatz supports same-sex marriage. He sponsored legislation in 2015 to allow married gay couples to have equal access to the veterans benefits and Social Security they have earned.
In one of his first votes in the U.S. Senate, he voted against renewing the FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012. On April 17, 2013, he voted to expand background checks for gun purchases.
In March 2014, Schatz was a lead organiser of an overnight talkathon devoted to discussing climate change. The gathering of over two dozen Senate Democrats took place on the Senate floor. The League of Conservation Voters supported the talkathon and ran campaign ads on Schatz's behalf.
Schatz voted for the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, a bill opposed by many civil liberties groups.
To encourage tourism in West Hawaii, Schatz proposed that customs begins in Japan so that planes can arrive in West Hawaii as domestic flights.
Schatz is married to Linda Kwok Kai Yun. They have two children. Brian's identical twin brother, Steve, runs the Hawaii Department of Education's Office of Strategic Reform.
Schatz was elected in a separate primary but on a joint ticket in the general election with Neil Abercrombie, who was running for Governor.